Brandy vs. Bergdorf’s: Fashion at Packer
When most people think of New York City private school fashion, a Gossip Girl-esque image comes to mind: perfectly pleated uniforms, shiny black heels, and designer handbags draped over every shoulder. The majority of Packer students, however, would likely scoff at the sizable price tag of anything in a real-life Blair Waldorf’s closet. And though most would trade the uniforms for mom jeans, the heels for sneakers, and the handbags for backpacks, Packer fashion and its implications are certainly not lacking issues of its own.
Packer students have seemed to come to the almost universal decision that designer brands, who have claimed notoriety for their high costs and often elite customers, are not considered ‘cool.’ While of course there are the rare few who wear designer brands to school, such clothing is far from what the average Packer student has in their closet.
The lack of designer brands in Packer’s hallways is, in many ways, quite fitting with Packer’s atmosphere, as well as Brooklyn’s as a whole. Being a school which places a large emphasis on discussions surrounding socioeconomic status, as well as constantly focusing on how to be as PC and aware as possible, it makes sense that Packer culture would be critical of designer fashion, and, like many other Brooklyn schools, instead opt for a more Williamsburg inspired vintage/thrifted aesthetic.
The distaste for designer brands is one which I share with most of the student body, but I think this opinion often leaves us feeling gratified too quickly. I find myself feeling a strange sense of pride that accompanies feeling above the cliche, Upper East Side/Manhattan fashion and its costs. And while I personally love that the norm at Packer isn’t designer fashion, why should I get to pat myself on the back? Just because designer clothing isn’t what most Packer students value does not mean that Packer is absent of its own issues surrounding privilege, money, and fashion.
Whether or not we intend it to, clothing and fashion in many ways act as a form of social currency, as does anything that affects how your peers perceive you. What I’ve found in my time at Packer is that how you are perceived (in relation to your clothing) is heavily influenced both by what you’re wearing and where you got it.
When I ask someone where they got their clothing at Packer, I often find that the response lands on one of two ends of a spectrum. Either the person lists a store on the short list of where I’ve found my peers shop—Urban Outfitters, Brandy Melville, Champion, etc—or they boast about their incredibly cheap find.
Admittedly, the stores Packer kids shop at aren’t quite the price of designer brands, but many of the stores students frequent are far from cheap. Even places that don’t have reputations among Packer students for their expensive costs can still be extremely pricy. A pair of jeans from Urban Outfitters is almost always upwards of $60.00, and a pair from a store such as Madewell almost always costs at least $100.00.
While of course not all Packer students shop at these places or would even consider spending that much money on an item of clothing, that in many ways adds to the complexities of costs of clothing at Packer.
What someone considers to be a reasonable cost for an item of clothing has an undeniable link to their privilege. A student who purchases their clothing by swiping their parent’s credit card is most likely not going consider the costs of clothes as much as someone spending their own hard earned money.
There is nothing inherently wrong with spending what you’re able, or having a different understanding of what is expensive than someone else, but why can’t we just talk about it? The discomfort Packer students feel when talking about their socioeconomic privilege often makes the topic get swept under the rug altogether.
While it can be uncomfortable to talk about wealth and money with your peers, that’s not a reason not to do it. It is easy to point at and look down on another school, but it is even easier to leave the culture at your own school unexamined.